Friday Roundup: Pension funding, regulatory overreach, high-speed rail, “barbell economies” in major cities

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s (and last week’s) bundle:

National Association of Manufacturers (Moutray): Real GDP Growth Revised up to 3.3 percent in the Third Quarter

The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that the U.S. economy grew by an annualized 3.3 percent in the third quarter, up slightly from its earlier estimate of 3.0 percent growth and extending the 3.1 percent gain seen in the second quarter. The revision came from slightly better data on business and state and local government spending than earlier thought.

My current forecast if for 3.5 percent real GDP growth in the fourth quarter, with 2.3 percent growth in the U.S. economy for 2017 as a whole. This is a slight improvement from the 2.1 percent average growth rate seen since the Great Recession, but I am also estimating 2.8 percent growth for 2018. In addition, I continue to believe that there is upward potential in the forecast…

StateNet Capitol Journal: State Pension Funds: The Good and the Ugly

Not all states are struggling. The pension system in Wisconsin is fully funded …and the District of Columbia pension system is overfunded. New Yor,… improved notably and now funds 94.5 percent of its pension program. Pension systems in South Dakota and Tennessee (also based on GASB 25) are also more than 90 percent funded.

In addition, eight states are more than 80 percent funded. Ranked from highest funding to lowest, they are Nebraska, North Carolina, Idaho, Utah, Washington, Iowa, Delaware and Oregon.

The Olympian (McKenna op-ed): Arbitrary and capricious: Rule of law binds agencies

After five years and thousands of hours of public testimony, it took a Cowlitz County judge just five seconds to say what many of us have long suspected: some state regulators are out of control, and important parts of the state regulatory process are now tools of activist groups.

Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning made his comments in response to a dispute over access to the Columbia River for the Millennium Bulk Terminals project. They suggest a level of frustration not often seen from the bench. The Millennium case is a striking example of how agency regulatory processes can be appropriated by activists seeking to deny or block projects that don’t align with their political agendas.

The Lens: Seattle: Don’t like our income tax? Move to Bellevue?

Paul Lawrence of Pacifica Law, which was hired by the city, said during the hearing that “If they don’t like the tax consequences that Seattle has chosen to do an income tax, they can move to Bellevue.”

However, even if the income tax is tossed out by the courts, many Seattle small business owners, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists may take the city up on the suggestion.

“They act like they’re so damn bulletproof, but they’re not,” Bellevue City Councilman Kevin Wallace said.

Seattle Times (Stuhmiller, Newgent op-ed): State regulatory agencies are killing our jobs

For months now, regulatory agencies have been taking action that is basically killing jobs and private investment in our state. This has occurred in communities outside of Seattle and King County, where the economy has been slower to recover and tech jobs are few and far between.

In Longview, the Department of Ecology usurped five years of state regulatory process, denying Millennium Bulk Terminals a water quality permit for a proposed export terminal based on criteria wholly unrelated to water quality. For more than five years and eight months, the state has asked Millennium to navigate its seemingly endless regulatory process under the guise that it might receive fair consideration for the terminal, which will initially export coal. The sudden about face on the water-quality permit makes one wonder if it ever stood a chance.

What regulators fail to understand is that the terminal, located on an existing industrial site near a deep water port, is about more than coal. Agricultural commodities are Washington’s second largest export, right behind aerospace products.

GeekWire: Washington governor is ‘bullish’ on Seattle-Vancouver high-speed rail

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is optimistic about creating a high-speed train to connect Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle, based on early indicators from a report commissioned by the state and backed by Microsoft.

“I think what this study is going to show is, very much, that there is a great demand for it which frankly is not too surprising when you look, around the world, at the success of these high-speed rails corridors,” Inslee told the B.C. legislature in a speech Tuesday, as reported by the Vancouver Sun.

The study is a cost-benefit analysis to determine the feasibility of building a high-speed rail line that could transport passengers between the two metros in less than an hour.

City Journal (Kotkin, Cox): Playgrounds for Elites

The revival of America’s core cities is one of the most celebrated narratives of our time—yet, perhaps paradoxically, urban progress has also created a growing problem of increasing inequality and middle-class flight. Once exemplars of middle-class advancement, most major American cities are now typified by a “barbell economy,” divided between well-paid professionals and lower-paid service workers. As early as the 1970s, notes the Brookings Institution, middle-income neighborhoods began to shrink more dramatically in inner cities than anywhere else—and the phenomenon has continued. Today, in virtually all U.S. metro areas, the inner cores are more unequal than their corresponding suburbs, observes geographer Daniel Herz.